SALT LAKE CITY
- A vote by Utah lawmakers to bring back executions by firing squad is the most dramatic illustration yet of the nationwide frustration over bungled executions and shortages of lethal-injection drugs.
Utah and several other states are scrambling to modify their laws on the heels of a botched Oklahoma lethal injection last year and one in Arizona in which the condemned man took nearly two hours to die. Meanwhile, Texas executed a Mexican mafia hit man last night with its second-to-last dosage of drugs.
Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has declined to say if he will sign the firing-squad bill, a decision that's not expected for a week or so.
"States are wondering which way to go, and one way is to send up a warning flag that if you don't allow us freedom in this lethal-injection area, we'll do something else," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. "This might be a message rather than a preferred route of punishment."
States have struggled to keep up their drug inventories as European manufacturers opposed to capital punishment refuse to sell the components of lethal injections to U.S. prisons.
The Utah bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Paul Ray, argues that a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane than the drawn-out deaths involved when lethal injections go awry. Ray said yesterday that he wants to settle on a backup method now so authorities are not racing to find a solution if the drug shortage drags on.
Opponents said firing squads are a cruel holdover from another era and will earn the state international condemnation.